The Lives of a Bengal Lancer has one of the more odd and unwieldy titles I’ve come across. Taking that into account, I expected the film itself to be a little less… by-the-numbers, I guess. Lancer (for short) is the kind of film that never once thinks about coloring outside the lines, and as a result, the film as a whole is so rudimentary that even those things that should be exemplary features end up coming off as mostly featureless instead. This is one of those films that is such a smear of grey in every facet that one wonders what the point of even watching it is. I’ll certainly be one to say: you wouldn’t be all that wrong in wondering so.
The film deals with the 41st regiment of the Bengal Lancers, stationed in India during the British Raj. Specifically, it deals with the trio of leads McGregor, Forsythe, and Stone, three lieutenants in the service of the 41st who find themselves at the center of a plot by rebel Indians to steal a cache of ammunition for their own use, and the heroics the men must undertake to stop the plot and capture the rebel leaders. My plot synopsis is rather meager, but then again, that’s really what the film feels like; meager. The filmmakers seemed scared to actually try and do something unique and special with this film, instead being merely content to follow the formula and hope that would be enough to make a successful picture. Even some of the scenes in the latter half of the film, when the trio are in enemy hands and must figure out a way to escape, were reserved at best in their choice of how to depict the action of the characters. For a film that is billed as one of the best action-adventure films of the 1930s, there was little action or adventure to be found, save for the last 15 minutes or so when everything is forced into rushing headlong into the conclusion of the film as is akin to so many of the films of this era. Not to mention how the film itself seemed to be far too akin to Here Comes the Navy, in that the bulk of the supposed entertainment value, especially early in the film, comes from watching the main stars generally being dicks to each other for very thin and shallow reasons, before they somehow become comrades and friends in arms for basically the exact same reasons, so yeah, the film was kinda sideways in that regard.
I’m really at a quandary as to this one. It was okay, but at what line does being merely okay serve as being good enough, especially for a Best Picture nominee? I guess it was the ennui that this film’s construction seemed to impart upon me that made me swing to the one side of that particular line; if a Best Picture nominee is merely okay, then why indeed is it nominated at all? I can only blame the expanded category for this, and as I’ve said with poorer nominees in the past, I’d be heavily surprised if this ends up above the fold in my ranking of this year’s field. It’s not bad, but even less than an hour after watching it, I feel like I’m already starting to largely forget the film, and that absolutely does not the best picture of the year make.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10